Sarah Kennedy

Organisation: 
Stream: 
Legal
Sector: 
Aboriginal Legal Services
Location: 
Wollongong
Round: 
Winter 2015

Over the past four weeks I have been given the opportunity to intern at the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) in Wollongong through the Aurora Internship Project.

The Aurora Internship Program places selected applicants with Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) or other community and policy organisations working in Indigenous affairs. The Program enables students and graduates to gain practical experience in an area of interest, assist an organisation in the area of Indigenous affairs and provides networking opportunities with professionals within a chosen area. This opportunity can show interns whether their potential career path is what they want to pursue, or whether they may follow another path. The experience exemplifies the disadvantages experienced by Indigenous Australians, and demonstrates the great work that is being done around Australia to reduce this disadvantage.

The ALS is an organisation which provides free legal advice, information and representation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The ALS opened in Redfern in 1970, working in the areas of criminal law, care and protection law and family law. Throughout the 23 offices and 185 staff members in NSW and ACT, the ALS provide invaluable support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The ALS benefits greatly from the support of student volunteers within all of their offices. The work performed by volunteers ensures that the office runs smoothly and any work done which assists the lawyers and administration staff is always greatly appreciated. This information and more can be found on their website (http://www.alsnswact.org.au/pages/about-us).

I have been lucky enough to become a part of the team at the ALS office in Wollongong where I have been involved in the processes of the criminal law system. Although at first I was unsure whether criminal law was something that I could see myself working in, I have been pleasantly surprised as to the practice of criminal law, which is somewhat different to what I learnt in Criminal Law in my first year of university. I was given the opportunity to attend court, read over files, write letters, assist with filing, perform research and interact with clients. These tasks have greatly improved my skills set in terms of drafting letters to clients in plain English, learning how to use different databases, research skills and learning how to interact with clients.

My favourite part of my experience has being able to assist clients to navigate through the somewhat complex criminal justice system through the local courts, and gain the best results for them. Services such as the ALS not only provide access to justice through free legal advice, but ensure that clients understand what is happening throughout the process and ensure that the service provided is culturally appropriate.

It is imperative in our society that those who otherwise would not have access to advice when catapulted into the criminal justice system, are provided with an opportunity to gain advice so that appropriate results are achieved. I found that the ALS, both the organisation and  staff working within the courts and office, strive and make all efforts to ensure that clients are not left without help and are given confidence that the best possible result is being sought.

This experience also further solidified the evident systemic disadvantage that is present in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The overrepresentation of First Australians within the criminal justice system must be addressed at a systemic level. The work of the ALS is imperative in ensuring that clients are given the best opportunity to avoid incarceration and reduce the chance of recidivism. This, to me, is work which is incredibly important.

This experience has opened my eyes to the immense impact that public interest community legal centres can have on the lives of those who are disadvantaged in our community. The work felt rewarding and important, and was something I could see myself doing in the future.